Text: Mikael Vallin
Photo: Evelina Lind
Picking the right shoes for your suit is often a matter of intuition, at least for those of us with an incurable style obsession and who have been doing it for years. It is not uncommon for us to even choose the suit based on the shoes we want to wear!Here, though, we will attempt to break the process down to a series of discussions, starting with what we think are the five most important aspects to consider:
Don’t let this initial series of choices overwhelm you. It will quickly come naturally after you start actively thinking about what shoes to wear with your suit.
It is not unusual for men who wear suits to think that “you can’t go wrong with a pair of black, lace-up shoes”. This is a bit of a stretch, to say the least, but can still be a good rule of thumb if you are unsure or would rather not make the effort to assemble a more interesting and stylish ensemble. However, since you have made it this far, we will assume that you, like us, think it is well worth the effort. To begin with one basic rule to which there are no exceptions: Always wear a brown belt with brown shoes and a black belt with black shoes.One common thread in all of the aspects we will look at here is the situation you are dressing for – casual and relaxed, or stricter and more formal.
When choosing what shoes to wear, the colour of the suit itself is one of the first things to consider. The undersigned only wears black shoes with black or grey suits and gives little credence to the “classic” rule that you should wear black shoes with a navy-blue suit, a rule to which many men still adhere.
With a dress code of “dark suit”, black shoes are theoretically the correct choice, but unless you work at a very conservative bank in the City of London or have to follow a very strict dress code, this rule is far from absolute. A pair of dark brown shoes, for example, harmonises much more readily with navy-blue fabric.We recommend pairing brown shoes to suits in all shades of grey, blue, brown, beige, and green. It isn’t “wrong” per se to wear black shoes with these colours, with the possible exception of beige, but brown shoes often provide a softer harmony that better enhances the outfit as a whole. Another rule of thumb, unless you truly know what you are doing, is to never wear brown shoes with a black suit.
As someone with an interest in shoes, you have no doubt heard the tiresome rule of “no brown shoes after six o’clock”. It would be impossible for us to write an article about choosing the right shoes without dispensing with such nonsense. This antiquated “rule” is built on the fact that, once upon a time and in very specific circumstances, men use to change into dress suits before dinner, which generally took place after six o’clock. Brown shoes should never be worn with a tailcoat, and so the rule was born.The overall impression your outfit creates depends greatly on the harmony of colours and materials. The darker your brown shoes, the more suitable for formal occasions. A rule of thumb is that more contrasting colours equal a more formal look. This is why white shirts and dark blazers are considered the most formal colour combination and why, and we must stress that we are heavily generalising here, lighter shoes make a more casual, informal impression.
Even here, discussing what is the right choice involves a hefty dose of generalisation. As with all style guidelines, the trick is to first learn the “rules” before experimenting with different ways to bend and break them. One such rule is that a formal look is better achieved by shoes with as little detailing as possible.
Therefore, it is usually recommended to complement formal suits with lace-up models such as Oxfords. If you would rather tone down the formality of your outfit, we recommend choosing monk shoes with a buckle to add a captivating flourish. The more details such as seams and heel patterning your shoes have, the more casual they appear. In theory at least, brogues are therefore considered a very casual and informal complement to your suit.
We added the caveat “in theory” as many of you doubtlessly consider our selection of brogues as being dress shoes. But we would ask you to remember that the author of this article has a particularly unhealthy interest in shoes, with a wardrobe containing around 25 pairs of hand-sewn shoes, and also that it is aimed at those with a burgeoning fascination for footwear – both novices and more seasoned aficionados.Shoes without laces are often seen as more casual. Different models of driving shoes and loafers are, during the summer months, an excellent choice for your workday uniform. When temperatures start to drop, Chelsea boots make a great alternative. If you want to experiment with wearing sneakers with your suit, an increasingly popular choice here in Sweden at least, dress sneakers such as this model from Common Projects are the best bet. White sneakers with clean lines, paired with a white t-shirt of thick, high-quality cotton under a blazer make for a timelessly stylish combination.
The effect created by the material of your shoes is highly dependent on fabric of your suit. Suede shoes are particularly well-suited to thicker fabrics such as tweed, flannel, or thicker cottons, as their more prominent textures will create a pleasing harmony.Even more textured leathers such as grained leather work exceedingly well with the aforementioned suit fabrics. As thicker suit materials are often seen as being somewhat less formal, full-grain leather brogues and loafers are a particularly good complement. Conversely, shoes in smoother leather work best with thinner and smoother suit fabrics.
This part of the discussion can be boiled down to one simple assertion: thicker soles make for more casual shoes while thin soles make a more formal impression. If you will be spending time walking along wet, sanded footpaths, we primarily recommend shoes with rubber soles. Thin leather soles are perfect on more formal occasions, but as they are more delicate, they risk being ruined by walking on less-than-optimal ground.
We could easily dedicate hundreds more paragraphs to the subject of shoes and suits, such as using suede shoes to add a fascinating and stylish touch to formal suits or how the rock’n’roll attitude of Chelsea boots make them a rebellious addition to a dress suit.
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